A Thai national wanted for arrest by the Thai Army for offending the country’s monarchy is hiding in Cambodia and has appealed to the government for asylum, an immigration official confirmed.
Ekkapob Luara, a student activist, is wanted for allegedly violating Thailand’s strict lese majeste law, which makes it a crime to question the status of the Thai royal family and renders public debate on the issue nearly impossible.
According to The Bangkok Post, Mr. Ekkapob was one of 28 people for whom the Bangkok Military Court approved arrest warrants in June for failing to report to the National Council for Peace and Order, which has been running the country since the Thai Army overthrew the elected government in May.
On Tuesday, Kerm Sarin, who heads the refugee bureau at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, confirmed that Mr. Ekkapob, who also goes by the name Tang Achiva, was in Cambodia and seeking asylum.
“We have this person,” Mr. Sarin said. “He did apply. His application is under procedure…. We have been checking for his [country of origin] information.
“We have to know whether it is a real case, why he is applying,” he said. “We have to know all the things.”
Mr. Sarin said he could not recall when Mr. Ekkapob applied for asylum or estimate how long it would take to assess his application, but added that the activist was presently living in Cambodia on his own.
In an opinion piece published Sunday in The Japan Times, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai academic now living in Kyoto, Japan, and an acquaintance of Mr. Ekkapob, said he had recently been in contact with the activist, who he said was in Cambodia under the protection of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Mr. Pavin, who is himself wanted by Thai police for failing to re-port to the junta, said Mr. Ekkapob claimed to be under surveillance by Thai military operatives while hiding in Sihanoukville last month. Mr. Pavin said a friend of the activist was forced to disclose Mr. Ekkapob’s whereabouts after being arrested in Thailand, and that the friend learned the Thai Army had received a “green light” from Cambodia to apprehend and repatriate him.
Contacted Monday by email, Mr. Pavin, an outspoken critic of the Thai junta, added that he had spoken with Mr. Ekkapob last week but had since lost contact. He said Mr. Ekkapob told him Thai guests staying at his hotel in Sihanoukville were asking around about him.
“[The guests] spoke Thai and he was told they asked a lot of questions about him from the landlord,” Mr. Pavin said. “Maybe they wanted to monitor him to link to other fugitives.”
Mr. Sarin, of the immigration department, denied that Cambodia had given Thailand permission to abduct Mr. Ekkapob. He declined to comment on the UNHCR’s role in the case, but said the agency was always involved when asylum seekers are questioned in Cambodia.
“In the whole process, the U.N. is always involved…whenever we do these interviews,” he said.
A regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok said the agency would not comment on individual cases.
Thai Army spokesman Colonel Werachon Sukondhadhpatipak could not be reached.
In June, Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong denied that another wanted Thai national, Jakrapob Penkair, was in the country, just days after the fugitive gave a reporter a face-to-face interview in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Jakrapob, a founder of Thailand’s pro-democracy “red shirt” movement and a former spokesman for ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was at the time searching for a host country from which to launch a Thai government-in-exile. Prime Minister Hun Sen, despite his warm ties to Mr. Thaksin, made it clear he would not allow a Thai government-in-exile to take root in Cambodia.
Since the coup in May, critics have accused the Thai junta of targeting members and supporters of the ousted government under its increasingly repressive rule.
Amnesty International says more than 570 people were ordered to report to authorities in the days that followed the overthrow. In a report released earlier this month, Amnesty said the junta had also charged an “unprecedented” number of people—14 in less than four months—over lese majeste offenses.